Bottle Breakdown: Water, Ritual, And Innovation, The Creation Of Tequila Partida Añejo Cristalino
Maestro Tequilero José Valdez has spent his life learning about and appreciating Tequila. His first memory of the agave spirit is of his father sipping it on Sundays ahead of the weekly barbecue. On Saturdays, he used to accompany his father to work where he learned about the importance of water when it comes to Tequila production. He studied Industrial Engineering to understand more about the production process, quality, sustainability and consistency, and when he finished college he began producing his first Tequilas. For the 15 years that have followed, he has continued to learn new things with every Tequila Partida release. Valdez has dedicated his life to Tequila and the latest result of his passionate study of the spirit is Tequila Partida Añejo Cristalino, which is the subject of this week’s Bottle Breakdown.
Cristalino is the hottest new thing in the Tequila market when it comes to style and technique. It’s aged, but it’s clear, and it manages to present as both young and old, delivering both herbal and wood notes. For Partida, it’s the latest innovation for a brand that has been pushing the boundaries of Tequila creation for the past few years. Earlier this year, the distillery unveiled its Roble Fino range, which combines its Tequila with the world’s most sought-after single malt Sherry oak casks.
In this week’s Bottle Breakdown, we sat down with Maestro Tequilero José Valdez to discuss Tequila Partida Añejo Cristalino and learn about the production process, creative approach, and his personal memories that went into the new offering.
Spirited Zine: Just to get started, what was your first experience with Tequila? And how does that memory impact the way you view Tequila Partida Añejo Cristalino?
José Valdez: When I was a kid I remember every Sunday my dad used to sip 1 or 2 caballitos (shots) of tequila in preparation for the BBQ seating in our backyard where we listened to Mexican Music (Jose Alfredo Jimenez or Antonio Aguilar) and enjoyed some appetizers such as guacamole, chips, peanuts, jicama and pepinos. He didn’t drink any other day or any other alcoholic beverage except for a fine tequila and specifically on Sunday when my mom and my 7 brothers and sisters were together right before the BBQ. I learned that it was a ritual that he really enjoyed and appreciated this nectar, that by the way, he used to put in a locked cabinet.
I grew up visiting factories on Saturday because one of my dad’s businesses was to build deep wells to extract spring water factories. I learned the importance of water in any industry but especially in the farming of agave and the production of tequila. I was able to learn about the production process in different distilleries even before I was the age to taste tequila. When I turned 18 years old, I started tasting different brands available at that time. I studied Industrial Engineering to understand more about the production process, quality, sustainability and consistency.
When I finished college, I started doing my first productions of tequila in a very small distillery to experiment and learned more about the importance of the agave, cooking, milling, fermentation, distillation and aging. Since that moment until today, more than 15 years ago, I have been learning and continuing to learn new things in every Tequila Partida production batch or any innovation such as the Añejo Cristalino or our Roble Fino, a double aged tequila finished in Sherry Oak barrels.
I see Tequila Partida Añejo Cristalino as a new proposition to try something different to what we have been perfecting for 15 years: Blanco, Reposado, Añejo and Extra Añejo. This memory impacts me positively because it reminds me of the importance of the natural resources such as the water, the agave plant, the natural way to produce tequila–never using artificial flavoring or coloring. It also reminds me of the passion to do special products to enjoy as my Dad used to do and continues doing.
SZ: For those of us who are unaware, can you tell us about where Partida gets its agave and how the terroir can be found in the flavors and terroirs of the Tequila?
JV: Tequila Partida only uses agave plants from the same region where our distillery is located–in the heart and origin of the tequila industry in the town of Tequila. Although you’re allowed to bring agaves and tequila from different regions and distilleries respectively, Partida only processes agave from the Tequila Valley and produces, ages and bottles everything in the same distillery. This is why many people call us “The Single Malt of Tequila.” All the agaves that we harvest have to reach maturity so the sugars are in the peak of concentration and maturation. In every production, I personally visit the different agave fields to select the agaves that are ready to be harvested. After that, they are sent to our distillery in order to cook in less than 24 hours to capture the freshness and natural sweet flavors of the agave as well as the terroir aromas and flavors from the Tequila Valley region.
The terroir can be found easily in the Tequila Blanco because it has no aging. Our Tequila Partida Blanco has strong aromas and flavors of herbs (fresh agave), fruit (Red grapefruit), minerals (earthy) and black peppers. These aromas and flavor are typical profiles of tequilas produced in the Tequila Valley with agave from the same region.
SZ: What kind of fermentation process does Partida use and where do you get your water from?
JV: 100% Natural fermentation in open stainless steel tanks. Partida fermentation uses only wild yeast from the environment and from the agave plant. In order to be consistent, Tequila Partida inoculates and propagates the yeast from the first fermentation tank in every production. Partida uses a natural, clean and slow fermentation to obtain tequila with character that represents the region where it is made.
SZ: Where did the idea to add a Cristalino come from? Was there an ‘aha’ sort of moment or has this been in the works for awhile?
JV: The idea came right after developing our line of Roble Fino Reposado Cristalino, a very exclusive limited edition bottling. We invested a lot of time and passion to develop a Cristalino with double aging and from there we came up with the idea to make a Cristalino for our core line to offer something that is available every day.
SZ: The Partida Cristalino uses Anejo Tequila. Can you tell us a bit about the aging process and what makes the Anejo the perfect base for your Cristalino?
JV: Tequila Partida Añejo Cristalino uses only Tequila Partida Añejo as a base to make the Cristalino. The aging process starts when the Tequila Partida Blanco is produced in the second distillation at 55% Alc. Vol. and is introduced into ex-bourbon white American oak medium toast 200 liters for a minimum period of 18 months (the minimum time by law is 12 months in containers up to 600 liters with new or used barrels made out of Oak or Encino).
The Añejo offers a perfect balance between agave and oak (aging) aromas and flavors. In the Reposado, the agave flavors dominate the aging flavors and in Extra Añejos the oak (aging) flavors dominate the agave.
SZ: Can you take us through the process of making Cristalino and how Partida’s is unique?
JV: To make Tequila Partida Añejo Cristalino, the tequila Añejo is passed through a paper filter with vegetal activated carbon to remove color and reduce the intensity of aging aromas and at the same time bringing back aromas from the Tequila Blanco, the original base of the Añejo.
Tequila Partida Añejo Cristalino is unique because our goal has been to use the minimum quantity of activated carbon and minimum time in contact with the tequila to remove most of the color but keeping agave and aging flavors. Because of this, Tequila Partida doesn´t need to add any sweetener and flavoring (which is allowed by the Mexican Law and very common practice in the industry). It is 100% natural.
SZ: Cristalino seems like the new kid on the block when it comes to Tequila, and it’s popularity has been soaring. Why did you think this was the right time to deliver a Cristalino and what does it offer that other styles do not?
JV: We’re offering the best of two worlds: the agave aromas from our Tequila Blanco and the barrel flavors from the Añejo in a clean and cristal appearance. Also, filtering through activated carbon makes the spirit easy to drink and not as spicy or aggressive as some typically mentioned with aged tequilas. It is a new proposition, not only for tequila consumers but also for non-tequila consumers, whisky, gin, rum, beer, wine, etc. It’s an innovation that new generations are open to try because it is something new.
SZ: How do you recommend enjoying Partida Añejo Cristalino and what should be paired with it?
JV: I like both neat and in cocktails. It should be paired with dry fruits, raisins, quince and figs.
SZ: When you’re not drinking Partida, what are you sipping on?
JV: Raicilla, Artisanal beers and wine.